Southern Border Update – July 29, 2019

Despite being in the news constantly, understanding what is happening on the southern border can be challenging.

The administration cites crisis levels of people crossing the border, yet in historic terms, until the 2007 recession, border officials had for decades handled about 100,000 people crossing the border monthly.  The difference is that most of them were Mexicans crossing alone – some fleeing persecution, but most simply seeking work to support their families.  Now, the majority are families from Central America fleeing dangerous conditions and seeking asylum and safe haven in the U.S., a right provided under both U.S. and international law.

Maine’s most recent asylum seekers from Africa who arrived in Portland in June also crossed over the southern border.   Some waited in Mexico for over 3 months before they were processed at the border post, as a result of “metering,” where only a few people are allowed to request asylum each day.   Due to dangerous conditions in Mexico, others gave up after waiting about two months to be able to enter through the border post, and crossed over the Rio Grande where they turned themselves in to border patrol officers and requested asylum, as both U.S. and international law allows.

The administration’s actions in response to the increased numbers of families seeking asylum are being challenged in the courts.  They include the “remain in Mexico” policy, ironically named the “Migrant Protection Protocols” despite the fact that Central Americans and others face many dangers while waiting in Mexico for the date when they can have their “credible fear” interview that will determine if they can apply for asylum in the U.S.

Another new policy proposed on July, but quickly blocked by one federal court soon after a separate federal court would have allowed it to be carried out while its legality is litigated, would have the administration rejecting asylum applications by persons who have passed through any country that was a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention or the 1967 Protocol  providing standards of protection for those fleeing persecution.   Mexico and all Central American countries that asylum seekers  pass through have signed or acceded to these international covenants, but that does not mean they are safe.

The most recent administration policy was announced on July 26th, when the U.S. and Guatemala signed an agreement to require those seeking asylum in the U.S. to be forced to apply in Guatemala.  As the article below points out, it is not clear that this would apply only to those who cross through Guatemala on their way to trying to enter the U.S. through the southern border.  The agreement will be challenged in U.S. courts, and the Guatemalan Supreme Court has already ruled that it would require legislative approval to take effect.

Also on July 26th,  the Supreme Court lifted an injunction blocking the administration’s diversion $2.5 billion of Department of Defense funds to build sections of southern border wall, while litigation over the legality of that diversion continues.

Here are a few recent resources that you may have missed that might deepen your understanding of how the administration is reshaping the U.S. response to those who seek protection from harm.

  • Article in Just Security about the U.S.-Guatemala agreement.
  • Post in Immigration Impact describing injunction of administration’s July 15th policy to deny asylum to most asylum seekers who pass through other countries en route to the U.S.
  • Commentary by the Cato Institute pointing out flaws in the administration’s newest policy making individuals who passed through third countries on their way to the southern border ineligible for asylum.
  • Graphic from the Wall Street Journal explaining how individuals are processed at the U.S. southern border.
  • Description of how “metering” at the southern border plays out.
  • Op-Ed by a career asylum officer describing how the administration’s new policies betray our legal and moral obligations to fairly hear the claims of those seeking protection in the U.S.
  • Article in Texas Monthly that describes some of the challenges African migrants, like those who are now in Portland, encountered before and after reaching the southern border.
  • Op-ed on Fox News about the detrimental impact of the Supreme Court’s decision to allow border wall construction to proceed on the southern border.